September 2010, Volume 14, Number 4


The Holocaust Memorial in Miami Beach
The Holocaust Memorial in Miami Beach.

Ending a century of genocide

When Miami Dade College professor Randall Kaufman gives presentations on the tragic events that happened more than 70 years ago in Nazi Germany, they’re not just lessons in history.

They’re about the present, too.

“With the Holocaust, we always say, ’Never again!’ ” Kaufman said. “But with genocide that continues to happen all around the world in places like Darfur and the Congo, we have to say: ’No more!’ ”

Kaufman, chair of the Arts and Sciences Department at the Homestead Campus, founded the Holocaust and Genocide Education Initiative in 2008 to promote awareness among students and the community through courses and public programs and activities. Under his direction, MDC established the first entry-level college course on genocide studies in the state. In addition, the Initiative has rapidly expanded the events that it holds for the public, from three programs its first year to nine this year.

The fall lecture series opens with “Kristallnacht-72nd Year Remembrance: The Holocaust, Havana and Miami” on Nov. 10 at Homestead Campus. The presentation will focus on Kristallnacht and the S.S. St. Louis and will include guest speakers Herbert Karliner, a refugee of Nazi Germany, and David Mermelstein, who survived the Auschwitz concentration camp.

A night of bloodshed

Kristallnacht, which started on Nov. 9, 1938, in Nazi Germany, was an anti-Jewish mob attack that many historians consider to have been the beginning of what led to the Holocaust.

Kristallnacht was triggered by the assassination in Paris of German diplomat Ernst vom Rath, who was killed by Herschel Grynszpan, a German-born Jew of Polish parents who had emigrated to Hanvover in 1911. Grynszpan had been protesting the mistreatment of Jews in his native country.

In response, the Nazis staged a coordinated attack on Jewish people across all of Germany.  As many as 30,000 Jews were arrested and thousands of homes, synagogues and businesses were destroyed by the Nazis.

The literal translation of Kristallnacht is “Crystal Night,” which refers to the damage done to Jewish property. The event is also referred to as “The Night of Broken Glass.”

After Kristallnacht, thousands of Jews tried to leave Germany. But since many countries including the U.S. had immigration quotas at the time, it was nearly impossible to get the required visas. 

For many, boarding the S.S. St. Louis on May 13, 1939, represented the best opportunity to escape. But the ship's 937 refugees were denied entry into Cuba and the United States.

Turned away from U.S. soil

“The ship docked off of Miami,” Kaufman said, “and the refugees could see the palm trees by day and the city lights at night.“

Fortunately, Gustav Schroder, the ship's non-Jewish German captain, was an anti-Nazi who refused to return home until his travelers had been given entry into a new nation. Ultimately, the refugees were accepted by England, Belgium, France and the Netherlands.

As for why the U.S. denied entry to the refugees, Kaufman said: “This was the Depression era. Everybody was scared (about taking in immigrants). Xenophobia had risen to new levels, and anti-Semitism was at play as well. The U.S. had turned against the outside world.

“There are lessons to be learned about how people should view immigrants today.”

— WV

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